On Tuesday, I questioned the lack of mothers in the Disney animated universe. It is interesting to note that that trend is not shared by Disney’s newer branch of animation, Pixar Studios. Out of 17 animated features, 11 of them include moms of those 11, in 7 of them moms are major characters. Let’s look at them, briefly.
It all starts, of course, with Andy’s mom. In all three “Toy Story” films she is a major part of the action. She brings home Buzz Lightyear, she tries to save Woody from Al, she takes the toys to the daycare. More importantly, she is gives Andy the time and space he needs to develop his imagination by playing with his toys. She doesn’t have a name. She is simply, Andy’s Mom.
As the years have gone on, we have had a wide variety of moms. In “A Bug’s Life”, the ant queen is ruler and mother. Mrs. Incredible kicks butt. Literally. Neither “Monsters, Inc” or “Finding Nemo” have moms, but their sequels both do. Russell talks about his mom often in “Up” though we only see her at the end. “Brave”, Inside Out”, and “The Good Dinosaur” all have active, involved moms whose relationship to the main characters anchors them. Moms are missing in both the “Cars” franchise and “WALL-E”, but this is perhaps to be expected of movies in which the main characters are machines. In fact, the only movie that is about a human and doesn’t have a mom in it is “Ratatouille”. Linguini is an orphan, Pixar’s only orphan. If we set that against Disney’s record it is startling. And before you say “Disney has been around longer, of course there’s more!” Since “Toy Story” was released, Disney animation studios has produced eight theatrical releases in which the main character was an orphan (“Tarzan”, “The Tigger Movie”, “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Lilo and Stitch”, “Brother Bear”, “Meet the Robinsons”, “Frozen”, and “Big Hero Six”). By any standard, that reflects a trend.
Pixar is often credited for both saving and revitalizing animation as a genre. One of the ways they have done that by using creative story telling that is not heavily reliant on existing tropes. Giving characters families connections deepens their character. The writers have to work a little harder to get us to care about them, but they always seem to get it right.
Thanks, Pixar, for not being afraid to tell the wider story. Maybe as the two studios become more permeable we will see a rise in Disney moms as well.
Featured image by Dan the Pixar fan at danthepixarfan.com